All lovers of rock 'n' roll are entitled to their own Summer of Love.
For Stephen McBean, frontman of Pink Mountaintops (and Black Mountain), his came a generation later, in 1987, and all those cigarette-stained gig fliers and hotboxed nights found their way into his latest record, Get Back.
Led by "Second Summer of Love," Pink Mountaintops' fourth album in the last decade is about everything you could love about rock 'n' roll and rebellious youth, trouble-bound nights driving shitty cars, chasing danger and invincibility all at once.
"I definitely wanted to make something fun and something that celebrates youth without getting too sentimental about it," McBean says. "There are references to places that I grew up around and streets I partied on and streets I skateboarded on and friends that I did good and bad things with."
While making the record, however, McBean was careful to balance the nostalgia for his own teen years with an energetic reverence for the spirit of youth in general, something that isn't owned by any particular generation or era.
"Everyone is always bummed on the generation after them, but whenever I meet kids, they still rule and they're all still doing cool things. Kids will still find a fantasy world inside a big cardboard box. Before there was the Internet there was cable TV and there's always been something that people have been up in arms about. Kids are smart and usually figure it out," McBean says.
"But there's something to be said for certain things, like meeting some girl and waiting by the phone for her to call, and you're roommate is on the line and you're like, 'Get the fuck off the phone, dude.' There's definitely something romantic about that but I guess maybe some kids now are writing romantic prose texts to their lovers."
McBean, who had moved from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Los Angeles, was itching to make a new record after taking a hiatus of several years from both bands. He met producer Joe Cardamone and the pair bonded over punk and heavier music, like Black Flag and the Stooges and early 1980s New Zealand bands on the Flying Nun label.
Cardamone "was good at keeping it no frills and keeping it raw and going for the energetic take, the one that came from the heart and wasn't necessarily note perfect, but pulled on the heartstrings and all the stuff music should do that you end up forgetting about when you hit 'record,'" McBean says. "To record it and get it done quickly feels good. It gives you less chance to worry about things and fret over fine details."
When some of the details involve J Mascis—whom McBean idolized when he was a kid—turning up to play some guitar solos, it's not exactly like just starting out in bands. And the music, though raw, has a bit more savvy, tracing an arc through different rock styles: psychedelic, garage, punk and stoner. But the overall experience of recording Get Back, in barely more than a week, paralleled that urgency of teenage rock bands.
"You first pick up an instrument and it's fun and exciting and you do anything, and just the fact that you're doing it is enough. Over time you maybe refine your tastes a bit and you study great songwriters," he says. "But then you have to constantly unlearn things and realize that most of the best stuff is just off the cuff and it's made by people late at night, nodding off. It's that whole thing of don't try and feel good. It's only rock 'n' roll; just do it and get on to something."
Singing songs like he would've sung them when he was 17, or 21, was a different way of challenging himself, a different way of finding inspiration and way of finding a meaningful connection to his formative years.
"When you're listening to bands and going to shows and kissing girls and riding skateboards, everyone believes they're untouchable then and it's magical and it moves at a different time than everything does when you get older. A day can feel like a month, a summer can feel like a year," he says. "Getting dumped by a girl is like worlds colliding and heavens exploding and impending hell. But everyone goes through it and everyone hangs on to it, a bit."
"I like being older too. If was still 17, I'd be bored as fuck. You get wiser. You want to combine that wisdom with the fire of being young and keep the passion intact."